Standards for Release of Marine Mammals Following Rehabilitation
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Standards for Release of Marine Mammals Following Rehabilitation

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  • Description:
    Rescue, rehabilitation, and release of wild marine mammals is allowed for authorized individuals under listed conditions by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) [16 U.S.C. 1379 § 109(h)]. Section 402(a) of Title IV of the MMPA specifically mandates that “The Secretary shall… provide guidance for determining at what point a rehabilitated marine mammal is releasable to the wild” [16 USC 1421 §402(a)]. This document fulfills the statutory mandate and is not intended to replace marine mammal laws or regulations.Historically, these Release Standards were developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), in consultation with marine mammal experts, and were included in the 2009 Final Polices and Best Practices Marine Mammal Stranding Response, Rehabilitation and Release, Standards for Release that were part of the 2009 NMFS Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement process. This current document encompasses revisions and updates to the 2009 Standards for Release published in the 2009 Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement. These Standards provide an evaluative process to help determine if a stranded wild marine mammal, following a course of treatment and rehabilitation, is suitable for release to the wild. These guidelines describe “Release Categories” for rehabilitated marine mammals of each taxonomic group (i.e., cetaceans, pinnipeds, manatees, sea otters, and polar bears). After completing a thorough assessment as prescribed, the release candidates are to be assigned to a Release Category as follows: “Releasable,” “Conditionally Releasable,” “Conditionally Non-Releasable (Manatees only),” and “Non-Releasable.” This document establishes essential release criteria that trained experts should use to determine whether or not individual animals are healthy enough to release into the wild. By using clearly defined Release Categories for rehabilitated marine mammals, NMFS and USFWS can evaluate and support the professional discretion of the attending veterinarian and their assessment team (i.e., biologists, veterinarians, animal care supervisors, and other team members of the marine mammal stranding networks). Based on these Release Categories, NMFS and USFWS can consult experts on challenging cases in which the survival of the rehabilitated marine mammal or its potential to pose a health risk to wild marine mammals is in question. Refinement of requirements and standards for release of rehabilitated marine mammals to the wild is a dynamic process. Use of these standardized guidelines will also aid in the evaluation of rehabilitation procedures and will allow for on-going improvement of such protocols. These Standards are based on the best available science and thus will be revised periodically.
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